Autumn Cyberganked Update
Dec 2nd, 2013 by Ice Cream Jonsey

This quarter’s update to the progress of Cyberganked is over here at Indie Game News.

Lots of news there that makes me happy. Randy had another successful year with the haunted house, and I was able to get a lot more characters photographed inside. (If you are ever in Denver during October, please visit his haunted house! It’s easily the best in the state of Colorado.)

One other thing that makes me happy is that I have started to implement automated tests. It’s tricky for me to do that with Hugo: there’s no “headless” mode, I don’t develop with a real IDE, and my tool of choice to script the game and test against output would be Selenium, which is not something I can use at the moment. I did finally come to a solution to these problems, which was to stop being such a baby, and do the automation that I COULD do.

Waaah! WAaaaaaargh!” — that was me irl

So I now have a system in place to pull my code from its repository and at least grep for some strings and values, and send me an e-mail if it doesn’t work. For instance, I usually set the hit points to some enemies to 1 in order to test what happens after they are defeated. Now, at least, if the Psycho of Western Hill has 1 HP, I will get a reminder to fix it when I wake up in the morning.

There’s one last bit I wanted to share about how development is going:

I can’t do transparencies in Hugo. I can’t put one image over another. Well, I could, but they would be square or rectangular images. I also don’t have the ability to manipulate graphics at a per-pixel level. This is fine, I knew this going in and I have made four other games with graphics just fine.

But there was one effect I wanted – when meeting one antagonist that wore shades, I wanted the first character in the player’s party to be reflected in those shades. I had two choices to get this effect done — First, I could create a separate static image for every single actor in the game and reflect them in the shades. There’s 22 different actors for player characters, so that would mean creating 22 different images. I could do that, or I could do the other option, which is to not have that effect in the game at all. I chose the former.

Randy has a dentist’s office room for his haunt. There are little teeth glued to the wall — the reason for this is that in the haunted house’s mythology, the dentist is extracting teeth and chucking them against the wall. It’s dark there though, so most people do not see it. Teller says that “Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.” Along the same lines, I burned an evening of my life making 22 separate jpgs for this one scene in my game. I say that not because I think it is supposed to impress anyone, but because when I finish this game I hope that people who have never played one of my games before can take some solace in the fact that a crazy person made it for them.

I made a page here in case you’d like to be on an e-mail list to be notified when the game is done.

Cyberganked: Character Portraits and Weapons
Aug 11th, 2013 by Ice Cream Jonsey

The process I have been using for actors in Cyberganked is as follows:

– I place an ad (or ask a friend) if they can run through Randy McLellan’s haunted house at The City of the Dead, when the haunted house is up. (September and October, usually.)

– I get 400-500 source photos.

– The rest of the year, I incorporate these people in the game.

I don’t know exactly what I’ll need when people go through, so I try to hit every room and get a little of everything. With over 10 actors shot, I now have enough source material that I can “greenscreen” my friends if they don’t live in Colorado. My friend Chris Monahan is one such actor, and I hope to shoot Rob O’Hara next month in Oklahoma.

The haunted house is filled with items that could be used as weapons. I am trying to get “realistic yet funny” weapons in the game, along with “realistic and painful” ones. So one such made-up weapon might be a Windex container that is duct-taped to a flash that sprays acid. Another might be an AK-47.

I don’t have all actors with the same weapons. So one thing I am trying to do is depict the actors that were using certain weapons. If you equip your character with a weapon I have a picture for, the appropriate graphic becomes their new character portrait.

Because screens are fun, here are couple examples. Megan Spielhagen found a revolver in the haunted house (thanks, Megan!) and Chris had a Beretta. If you create a character and choose either one of them as the actor for your characters and give them those weapons, here is what you will see when you >look at them in-game, or if they are doing things that cause their portraits to show.

(You can click for the larger image.)

Cyberganked is being written in Hugo, and is really more of a character role-playing game than text adventure. No ETA on when I will be finished with it just yet. I have a “Cyberganked” tag on this website if you’d like to see past updates.

Cyberganked: Year One of Development Update!
Jun 27th, 2013 by Ice Cream Jonsey

Next week, I’ll have invested a year into Cyberganked. This is a good time to give an update and talk about what has gone right and wrong.

In 1998 I decided that I wanted to try making computer games. I checked out the text adventure language Inform and the Bard’s Tale Construction Set. Inform was (and is) a better environment for game creation. Though I would say I enjoyed text adventures and Character Role Playing Games (CRPGs) equally in my teens, the BT Construction Set wasn’t something you could do serious, new work in.

I continued making text adventures, switching from Inform to Hugo, because the tools, community and support were so good. Additionally, making a text adventure is simply easier than a CRPG, and there is more of an emphasis on writing.

Last year I had decided to research the possibility of making a CRPG using Hugo, the text adventure language I had grown familar with. I had demonstrated bits and pieces of RPG actions in some of my other text adventures: I’ve implemented turn-based combat in A Crimson Spring, Fallacy of Dawn and Cryptozookeeper. I’ve created lists of enemies and illustrated them. So, a lot of this I knew was possible. The big thing that concerned me was handling the names of a player’s characters.

This is the sort of use case I wanted to be available:

>shamino, drop gun
>snake, equip amiga
>look at karen

I wanted those names to be anything the player could think of. Or, I wanted the player to be able to create a name and have it added to Hugo’s internal dictionary. This proved possible – I implemented it over Labor Day, 2012. I can do full names and nicknames – unfortunately, the only non-awkward way to implement it is to make the nickname (no space or weird characters) be the one you use in-game.

The other big concern I had was saving characters to disk and restoring them. This also works. (On editing this, I realize that I didn’t have much to say, but I don’t have much to say about this one!)

That brings us to this update:

Things Going Well

Maze Automation

CRPGs typically have lots of “mazes.” You’re often expected to map them. A CRPG maze is different than a text game maze. A text game maze offers obscurity and frustration due to the sameness of the room. They typically use exits that “double back” on themselves. Mapping them is done through dropping objects and seeing what happens when you move about.

A maze in a CRPG is meant to be explored. There are usually options for easily getting the x/y coordinates of the maze you are in. Dropping objects and having them persist is usually not possible, and the mazes usually have a grid-like structure.

I am not sure how many mazes (or “levels”) I want in Cyberganked. I want each room to get special attention to some degree. That means a description and a picture. To aid this effort, my friend Paul Robinson wrote a Pascal program to help out.

The program (dubbed “The Genesis Device” by Ben Parrish) takes parameters for a grid — the number of rooms along the x and y axis, the maximum chance that a fight might occur, the base names of the room and so forth. It then generates Hugo code – with linking exits! – for that maze. The algorhythm used ensures solvable mazes. Paul made it so that the maze itself is displayed in ASCII (using a fixed font) in the source code. Furthermore, the graphics for these mazes are based on the x and y coordinates, so I can create the graphics, plop them into the game and they appear with no manual code changes.

It automated a lot of work and will eliminate a ton of bugs. I no longer need to ensure that the open mazes have correct exits.

* * *

Arrow Key Traveling

Jonathan Blask was kind enough to implement something called “travel mode.” In typical CRPGs, you need the arrow keys to move around. In Cyberganked, the game is laid out with the four primary compass directions. That did make it a pain if you just wanted to wander around town defeating enemies and building experience…

Well, enter travel mode. In travel mode, the game only takes input from the arrow keys, as they correspond to north, south, east and west! You are effortlessly brought into combat. If you see an NPC to speak to, hitting ESCAPE gets you out of travel mode and back to the regular interface. It’s rather slick, in my opinion, and really makes this CRPG / text game smoother.

* * *

Day and Night

I am also enjoying the construction of a day and night cycle. I’ve been trying to shoot landscapes in night and day conditions, but there is some photoshop fakery involved as well. It’s not too obvious, due to the four color CGA palette the game has. Well, it’s obvious, but I can get away with it. I definitely recommend making games in four colors or fewer.

Things To Improve

When you create your six party members, you have many choices for character portraits. I am having the same actors and models do the same thing at the City of the Dead Haunted House in Denver, Colorado. This means that if the game has to say, “The fifth character is trying to make a call on a pay phone – go get the picture for the fifth character’s model and display it” that there is always a picture for each model.

This creates a problem, in a way – I need the models to be IN Denver for me to shoot them. And I have about a two-month window for photography, as the haunt is not open year-round.

Additionally, and there is no PC way to say this – I live in a state with mostly white and Hispanic people.

If money and resources were no object, I’d be flying actors in from all over the world to be shot in this game. I’d have 10 of each race on earth represented. I had placed ads last year and the only replies I got were from Caucasians and Hispanic people.

I could try contacting a modeling agency, I suppose, but at the same time I am trying to keep upfront costs low. I am already a ways in debt with this game.

So what I will try is to create a sort of “actor pack” with photographs that show the shots I need. I could then, possibly, try to get with models anywhere in the world and say, “This is what I need” for payment. I’ll see if it is too awkward to really get good results from.

@Cyberganked (for all the latest development news)

Flack’s Amazon Gift Card Photo Contest
Jan 8th, 2013 by Ice Cream Jonsey

My pal Rob O’Hara is killing it with a contest he is running at send him a photo that I can use for my next computer game, and you will be entered to win a $50 Amazon gift card. I need several people to play the enemies and antagonists in this game, so this will hopefully help fill out the ranks. You get a copy of the game when it is finished, as well as credit and my ever-lasting appreciation. Rob’s got all the details here. Thanks, Rob!!

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